I love those tiny “Shambhala Pocket Classics” books. I keep a mini-library of them on a shelf in my nightstand. Last night I was having trouble dropping off to sleep, so I picked up the miniature copy of The Dhammapada, one of Buddhism’s sacred texts. I opened it at random and found this pithy statement: “Our lives are shaped by our minds; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.”
I closed the book and thought of the implications of that simple observation. In life, nearly every decision we make affects other people. If you think about it awhile, you realize that’s an astonishing fact. It goes back to what we should have learned as children–how our actions affect others. Are we being fair?
Fairness means we treat one another in ways that respect each others’ well-being. Fairness is not the same as equality, but it is closely related to it. Our individual and our social strength lies in our differences. While every person should enjoy equal civil rights and freedoms, our differences also require respect. When we treat everyone we meet with the same respect we expect, we are acting out of fairness.
There are plenty of voices in the public sphere that advocate inequality and unfairness. They appeal to our desire to be exclusive and special. In other words, they appeal to our egos in unwise ways. Unfair thinking leads to dehumanization of others. Because fairness towards others cultivates humanization and compassion, fairness is a primary virtue that enhances everybody’s lives. It’s also one of the foundation stones of ethics.
Every time we avoid the temptation to take advantage of people, we are being fair. When we listen to people with an open mind, we are being fair. When we do not pass the buck by not blaming others for our own mistakes, we are being fair. When we don’t play favorites, we are being fair.
Unless you are a court judge, fairness is not something bestowed upon others like a gift from on high to underlings below. We understand fairness better when we know our own character strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge helps us be present with the strengths and weaknesses of others. Fairness manifests when we recognize our shared humanity.
Working from the standpoint of fairness, we find it effortless to treat people equitably and impartially. We expand our vision to consciously set aside self-interest and group loyalty when the time comes for us to make a decision or pass judgment. Being fair makes it easier to listen intently, to share with others, to take turns, and not take advantage of people based on their weaknesses.
Fairness is at the core of justice. Fairness is not lock-step sameness or always following the letter of the law. Fairness happens when we can bring about compromises and solutions based upon circumstance and reason. We instinctively sense when someone is being unfair or fair.
In the larger social view, fairness is justice. In order to have true justice, decisions must be made that balance the needs of the individual with the needs of society as a whole. At its best, justice minimizes the conflict between the two.
Justice is not restricted to our judicial institutions and judges, it must be an integral part of our own lives. We must be aware of individual and social injustice and take action against it. If we ignore injustice, injustice grows and ultimately affects every one of us. When one person or group is treated unfairly, we all feel the unjust effects, sooner or later.
To understand the weakness or strength of a nation, we not only need to look at what it has already achieved, but the amount of fairness to which it aspires. If fairness is a major factor in the lives of a nation’s citizens, it will eventually manifest in the life of that nation.
Fairness is the power in the beacon of freedom.